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15 January, 2010
My weeks are very variable from day to day,
although they follow a predictable cycle. Mondays
start off as fun, light and easy, but the week gets successively more stressed
with each following day, climaxing in Thursday which is the day I write
Unfortunately, very little of the newsletter can
be done earlier in the week, because I simply don't know what I'll be
including earlier in the week, and hot stories are evolving during the
week. To give you an appropriate selection of stories and up to
date commentary, I can't start the newsletter until
sometime Thursday; all I can do prior to then is search for and short
list possible items for inclusion, and of course work on the weekly
Even more unfortunately, it generally takes
way more than a regular 8 hr day to write the newsletter. Which is
why you may have noticed the time I send the newsletter is generally
well after midnight.
I'm writing this not to complain, but
rather than explain. So there I was this Thursday morning, seated
at the computer, fresh cup of coffee at hand, and just having turned the
heaters up from their cooler night setting to a nice warm day setting.
When, all of a sudden, darkness, and (with the instant cessation of the
heaters) a chilly silence too, punctuated only by the chorus of
out-of-time plaintive bleatings from UPS units that had suddenly woken
up. Yes, a power cut, and on the worst possible day of the week.
Upon being told by the local power company
that there was a 'scheduled outage' (which, while scheduled, had not
been shared with me) and the power would remain out until 4pm, I tried
to decide how best to respond.
No problem, I thought to myself. I'll
just grab my laptop and go work at the local mall, using their free
Wi-fi. I quickly went to save my open files to the internet via
excellent Sugarsynch software, but noticed the network connection was
now down. Ooops.
After some checking, I ascertained that one of the five steps the
internet takes between the fiber feed into my house and my computer had
a problem - its UPS had failed.
Did you know that the batteries in
UPS units have a finite life? If you are relying on a UPS, you
need to check it every year or so, and either replace the battery or the
entire unit when the battery ceases to work. With a way too
complicated path that involves different equipment, each with its own
UPS, at five different places in my garage and house, one of the UPSs
had failed and so my network was dead.
I was annoyed at not being able to transfer
some of the material I needed, but no worries. There would be
plenty of other things I could productively do. Except that, as I
grabbed my sometimes trusty Dell laptop, I remembered only one of its two batteries were installed - the other bay had the CD/DVD drive in
it, and I further remembered that the installed battery was half
discharged and I hadn't recharged it.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I'm
writing this from the mall, where, astonishingly, I couldn't find a
single power outlet. There used to be some in the floor, but they
have all now had brass security covers placed over them. Even the
mall Starbucks, while offering Wi-fi, does not also offer laptop power.
So I'm writing what I can on less than one hour of remaining battery
life, and then I'm not sure what I'll do.
What a funny world it is when it is easier
to find a Wi-fi signal than a mains power plug.
Another thing about power.
Coincidentally I was reading this week about the need to 'condition'
your laptop battery from time to time (and the same for all other
Lithium battery using devices). This involves fully charging the
battery, then fully discharging it, then fully recharging it again.
Apparently the power management circuits inside our electronics 'forget'
the maximum and minimum charge levels of a battery if they aren't
reminded from time to time and end up underestimating the amount of
remaining charge, turning off your laptop or phone or iPod because it
thinks the battery might be flat, even though the battery still has a
lot of remaining charge.
This is sensible good advice and you
should do it when you notice your battery seems to be lasting for much
less time than formerly.
Of course, it isn't only me with power problems.
Continental had to suspend flights at its Cleveland hub on Sunday after
the airport suffered a widespread power outage early in the morning.
Apparently a transformer shorted out due to salt dust getting into its
wiring. Power was out for eight hours, returning at 2.30pm, but
Continental's flights remained suspended until 6pm while the airline
checked for any damage to equipment that was
sensitive to and had been exposed to the cold weather during the outage.
Indeed, I'm stating the obvious when I observe that the
cold weather has
been wreaking havoc on airline operations all around Europe (and
trains too, and doubly definitely road transportation, and even sea
ferries due to icing of the waterways). If
international flights can't leave Europe, then the planes are not at the
other end of each route to fly back to Europe either, so the problems
have extended to the US and elsewhere. Record cold weather,
extraordinarily heavy snows, and the extended duration of both has in
some cases drained entire countries of salt supplies, and airports have
just not been able to cope with the snow removal and de-icing
requirements, making for total misery.
These problems are being unfortunately exacerbated by a French
air traffic controllers strike in Paris on Thursday.
Shall I insert the usual snide comment about
Actually, instead of snide comments, here's
thoughtful article pointing out, among other eye-opening things,
that the Arctic ice cap, rather than shrinking and disappearing by 2013
as was earlier claimed by some, has increased in size 26% since 2007.
With that as lengthy introduction, can I
turn you now to our Travel Insider tour of Scotland's Islands and
Highlands in June 2010 - hopefully well after winter has turned into
spring and summer (we'll be there for the summer solstice). We've had six people register interest in
the tour; if I can get four more people, then ten people in total will
be enough for me to confirm the tour and guarantee its operation.
Maybe you've been to Scotland before, but
chances are you've only seen the major cities and perhaps one or two of
the out of city tourist attractions. Have you ever taken a
couple of hour ferry ride out to one of the islands, and have you ever
really truly experienced the barrenness, the beauty, and the remoteness
of so much of Scotland?
Have you ever found yourself in an area where
the people around you are not talking English with a Scottish accent,
but instead are speaking Gaelic? And maybe you've visited a
whisky distillery, but have you visited an Islay distillery? And
have you ever tasted the second best single malt whisky in the entire
world (according to Jim Murray's 2010 Whisky Bible in which he
rates/ranks 3850 different whiskies)?
You may have seen a Harry
Potter movie, but have you ever taken the two hour mainline ride on the
'Harry Potter steam train' (considered the finest railway journey in the
world)? And so on, through a wonderful panoply of experiences that
this tour offers to you.
So why not treat yourself to something
different this early summer and come with us on this wonderful tour of
Scotland's Islands and Highlands.
And, to whet your appetite for Scotland
(perhaps in more ways than one) I decided to write this week on one of
the things Scotland is justifiably famous for - Scotch whisky.
Like many other 'aspirational lifestyle' products and spirits in
general, whisky - and particularly the more expensive single malts - is
a victim of much hype and nonsense, and so I set myself the task of
attempting to strip a lot of the nonsense from the topic and to give you
a realistic explanation of what makes whisky good and bad, how to tell
the difference, and some hard hitting commentary on the relationship
between the price you pay for a whisky and its underlying quality.
I'll tell you this much up front - there is
absolutely no relationship
at all between the price and quality of a whisky; some of the very best
whiskies in the world are priced in the low/affordable range, while some
other pretentious whiskies that are outrageously priced (sometimes even
for more than $1000 a bottle) are perceptibly inferior to the $50/bottle
As is often the case, my short
article/expose on the whisky industry grew somewhat, to a current 13,000 words.
Unfortunately, the sudden loss of power has prevented me from
transferring this research onto the website, so I will complete this on
Friday and send you a quick email to let you know when it is available
for your reading pleasure.
I hope you'll be inspired by this commentary
on whisky to come and see some of the distilleries and regions where
whisky is made on our June Scotland's Islands and Highlands tour.
Dinosaur watching : More
December traffic results (Delta/Northwest with a 6.3% drop), and
United also showed its total result for 2009 - with a major 8.1% drop in
traffic for the entire year.
By comparison, Southwest showed a full year
increase of 3% in passengers, including an increase for December.
Good news for Virgin America.
The latest challenges to its status as a US owned/operated airline have
been rejected by the Dept of Transportation. Details
And the airline is going to become a co-star
in a new reality show about five flight attendants who work for
The focus of the show, to be called 'Fly
Girls' is the massive amounts of melodrama surrounding the attendants
who are single, 20-something, and live together in an LA crash pad while
partying, dating and jet-setting around the country. And it is
almost predestined that we'll see publicity hound Sir Richard Branson
put in an occasional appearance as a guest star. Virgin America says
there is not too much branding in the show but they hope to build
awareness and drive sales.
Virgin America currently flies in 10 markets
and hopes to expand to another 40 destinations over the next five years.
Good luck to them if/when they do.
Some years ago A&E produced a documentary
style series, 'Airline', about the people flying and working on
The battle for the future of Japan
Airlines continues, as does the airline's continued decline.
It now seems that JAL may refuse to accept money from either Delta or
American Airlines, preferring instead a national bailout from Japan.
But JAL will still need to choose whether it affirms its current
alliance with AA and the other Oneworld airlines, or if it switches
allegiance to Delta and the other Skyteam carriers. The term of
art being used is that JAL will seek 'greater business cooperation' with
one or the other alliance.
Now you know and I know that 'greater
business cooperation' is a code phrase that means 'work together rather
than compete' and we also know that the reason airlines do this is
never, never, never for the benefit of travelers. It is only and
always and exclusively because such collusion rather than competition
promises lower costs to the airline, but higher fares to us.
But in a strange piece of analysis, airline
analyst Vaughn Cordle says that if JAL switched to the Skyteam alliance,
it would get access to a larger route system, something which would help
travelers (how, Vaughn?) and so therefore such a move should get
antitrust immunity because it would benefit the consumer through - wait
for it - greater price competition.
Ummm - how does an alliance of airlines that
agree to jointly market and price their services increase competition?
And as for the greater convenience, if you're changing from one airline
and airplane to another, and if your bags are being transferred for you,
where is the extra (or lesser) convenience if the two airlines are in
the same alliance or in competing alliances?
I can't understand or accept Vaughn's
justification for and support of an expanded closer alliance between JAL
and any other airline.
Talking about Delta, it seems it and
Continental are the first airlines to start the latest round of
increased checked bag fees. The first checked bag increases from
$15 to $23, and a second bag goes up from $27 to $32 (these fees
increase still further to $25 and $35 if you pay the fees at the airport
rather than in advance, online). And don't forget, these are fees
each way. Double them for roundtrip. Triple them if you're
on a 'circle trip' with two stop-overs.
Other airlines are following suit, except
for Southwest, which continues to have no checked bag fees at all.
And talking about airline analysts, here's a
very sensible article that explains how and why it is extremely
difficult to make broad statements about airfares increasing or
decreasing - notwithstanding the propensity of some commentators to
delight in making such statements.
It is a must read for anyone interested in
understanding a bit more of the complexities of this issue.
British Airways continues to suffer terrible
problems with its flight attendants.
This article's headline claims that flight attendants are
deliberately wasting the wine served in business and first class as an
oblique way of 'punishing' the airline for not being more receptive to
As best I can establish, the article is
accurate in the comments it makes. The situation is simple - BA's
flight attendants are among the best paid in the industry (a comment to
the article suggests BA flight attendants earn twice what Virgin
Atlantic flight attendants earn), and over the years, have accumulated
some extraordinarily generous allowances and other benefits on top of
their flight pay - allowances that can put as much as $1000 or more
extra cash in their hand per layover.
Previous CEOs at BA have passively
capitulated to the airline's aggressive unions, and many of the
airline's union members live in a make believe world full of
expectations of entitlements unchanged from the days when the airline
was government owned.
These days the airline is a private
corporation, and must answer to its shareholders and the marketplace,
and must observe standard industry practices and make a profit.
The featherbedding of the past has no place in today's much more lean
economic times, and the flight attendants need to rid themselves of
their out-of-touch beliefs about their entitlement to special treatment.
New CEO Willie Walsh is now attempting the very difficult task of moving
BA's unions and their labor practices into the present day world.
My suggestion to the BA flight attendants :
If you really think you're worth everything you're claiming, surely
you'll have no problems finding any other airline that will be delighted
to give you everything you want. But - as you well know - there
are no such airlines any more. So suck it in, stop seeing us
passengers as your enemies, and start working for a living and be
appreciative of the jobs you have. There are plenty of others
who'd love to take your jobs from you, and to gladly work at them
wholeheartedly for much less money.
And my suggestion to BA management :
Your flight attendants are the public face of your airline and can
massively influence the customer experience, particularly in the premium
cabins. You must stay the course and rewrite the rule book with
your flight attendants, and insist on the highest standards of customer
service and courtesy, and destroy the unaccountability of the 'we are
better than you' philosophy of some flight attendants that selectively
destroys what could otherwise be an excellent flight experience.
The FAA has expressed its public
disappointment with what it claims to be industry foot-dragging over
upgrades to the black box flight data and cockpit voice recorders that
it is requiring be fitted to all new planes.
Back in spring of 2008, the FAA gave
airplane manufacturers two years to upgrade the black boxes installed in
new planes, requiring them to have better power supplies, longer voice
recording capability, and to store more data on more airplane functions
It seems that all airplane manufacturers
have adopted a 'go slow' approach, with much handwringing and excuses
being offered for why two years is not enough time to make the changes
required of them. For example, the General Aviation Manufacturers
Association, an industry trade group, told the FAA that 'supplier and
company resources necessary to make these changes have been
significantly diminished by the faltering economy'.
The FAA, however, says the industry claims
are little more than sham
arguments to put off the safety upgrades. The agency claims the largest
commercial-aircraft makers around the globe had made a decision 'some
time ago' not to comply, but only presented their claims much later in
By amazing coincidence, according to the FAA's latest document, some of the industry requests
for delay even use 'the same justifications' and also identical language.
The FAA said
none of the requests indicate that manufacturers 'had properly planned
for regulatory compliance'. The FAA contends the industry requests for
delays 'are not valid evidence that the industry is unable to comply,
only that it has chosen not to'.
And so, after this stern riposte to the
airplane manufacturers, is the FAA going to refuse them an extension of
time? For absolutely 100% sure, if the FAA sticks to its guns
and refuses to certify any new planes after the April 2010 deadline for
the new blackboxes expires, the manufacturers would amazingly quickly
find that they could indeed comply.
Unfortunately, no. The FAA abjectly
fails to back up its strong words with any action at all, and in the
process, rewards the airplane manufacturers' bad behavior and encourages
further such delays on other safety issues in the future. The FAA
says it will now extend some deadlines until the end of this year and
others until April 2012.
That is utterly shameful. It is
utterly shameful of the airplane manufacturers to delay these needed
enhancements, and it is utterly shameful that the FAA now lacks the
moral fiber to refuse to extend an already generous lead time.
Think what two years represents in the
development/evolution cycle for complex equipment like cell phones,
televisions, and computers. If companies can completely
re-engineer and massively enhance such equipment, why can't it do the
same with black boxes - black boxes that were far from 'state of the
art' two years ago in any event.
And it isn't as though the FAA is requiring
pioneering new technologies to be developed from scratch. Nothing
of the sort. It is just simply asking that the black boxes be
given better power supplies and the ability to record more data.
Don't we all know, in our own personal experiences, that hard disks
today can hold twice or four times as much data, and in less space, than
hard disks of two and more years ago? Where's the problem?
In truth, there is no problem, and if the
FAA was willing to refuse to certify new planes without new black boxes
after its first deadline expired in April, we'd see new black boxes
appearing within days or weeks. The FAA is being played for a
fool by the airplane manufacturers, and the losers in the game are us as
Talking about airplane manufacturers, we've
now had both Boeing and Airbus announce their sales and deliveries
numbers for 2009. Although sales numbers are surprisingly
subjective, for the third year in a row, Airbus recorded more net sales
than Boeing (both companies had significant numbers of order
cancellations). Airbus obtained a net total of 271 new orders,
Boeing secured 142. Airbus also delivered more planes than Boeing
- 498 compared to Boeing's 481. As a result, Airbus' order backlog
shrunk by 227 planes and Boeing's backlog shrunk by 339. Both
companies have about 3500 airplanes on their order books at present -
about seven year's production at present rates, so even if there were no
new plane sales for a couple of years, they'd still have plenty of
backlog. More details and historical comparisons can be seen in
the fifth part of my Boeing series.
Airbus remains hopeful of selling maybe ten
more A380s this year. We'll have to wait and see about that, there
can be no doubt that currently, sales of this super-jumbo plane are
lower than what Airbus had hoped for.
I had verbally
rolled my eyes at Southwest hiding behind the non-event that was
and is the H1N1 flu as a reason to remove its pillows and blankets from
its flights last week (doing it for 'our safety'). Further
confirmation -should any be needed - about the nonevent that is H1N1
week, with the organization being accused by some of having
exaggerated the dangers of the virus under pressure from drug companies.
Message to Southwest : It is safe.
You can return the pillows and blankets to planes again. Please.
Also last week,
I'd commented on a risk we all take for granted when we travel on an
overnight flight - the risk of someone rifling through our carry-on
items in the overhead while we're sleeping in the darkened cabin.
I don't know if he is a reader or not, but
we now hear of actress Cybill Shepherd's 22 year old son Zack, who was
arrested at PHL on Tuesday after allegedly stealing a number of items
from fellow passengers on an overnight UA flight from SFO.
Witnesses reported that Cyrus
Shepherd-Oppenheim (popularly known as Zack) went through the carry-on bags of two sleeping
passengers and lifted a Canon camera, makeup case, cash and a small
I'd mentioned above that our Scotland's Islands and Highlands Tour
includes what some people hail as the world's greatest railway journey -
the 2 hr 5 minute journey from Ft William to Mallaig in the Scottish
Highlands, on a beautiful restored steam train, passing through scenes
featured in the Harry Potter 'Hogwarts Express' in each of the movies.
This truly is a marvelous journey, through wonderfully beautiful
scenery. But it is also short - that suits our purpose, but for
people seeking a more extensive rail experience, it pales in comparison
to the multi-day luxury excursions offered in various countries around
One of the countries with excellent train journeys is Australia - home
of the world record holding 'longest stretch of straight railroad track
in the world' along the Nullabor Plains (between Perth and Adelaide).
There's a new luxury train just starting up in Australia now, called
The Southern Spirit.
It will run between Alice Springs, down to Adelaide, then around the
coast to Melbourne, and up to Sydney and on to Brisbane. A two
week tour on the train costs A$10,590 (US$9,900) or A$14,000 (US$13,100)
- per person - depending on the degree of cabin luxury you seek.
Should I point out that for the same price as you'd pay for just one
person taking this train journey, you could get our
Scotland tour for
two people, complete with airfares to and from Britain, and pre-post
accommodation, and a bunch of bonus extra train travel (maybe the Eurostar over to Paris, etc) as well, plus with generous spending money
The American Dialect Society has named the
verb 'tweet' as the top word for 2009 (this relates to the sending of a
message on Twitter). The word for 2008 was bailout and the 2007
word was subprime.
They also announced another verb as the top
word of the last decade. The verb is 'google' (as in searching
online), and of course is directly derived from the name of the
extraordinarily successful company, Google.
Warning - lengthy and wideranging article
on Google follows - help yourself to the Page Down key if not
There can be no doubt that Google was
definitely the wunderkind of the 2000's, and its amazingly useful search
technology has profoundly changed all our lives. We are all now no
more than a few clicks away from getting just about any type of
information on any type of topic, thanks to Google and its searching.
Since its founding in September 1998, Google
has rapidly grown to be the powerhouse that it is today, with a market
capitalization of $187 billion (Microsoft is still significantly larger,
worth $275 billion; but Yahoo is lagging way behind at a mere $24
billion) and 20,000 employees. It has fitfully tried to diversify
in many different areas, but 99% of its revenue continues to come in
But Google is not omniscient or invulnerable
nor even always right, facts which Google itself may be losing sight of.
For example, Google's new Nexus One phone has now been in the marketplace for a
little more than a week, and it is already being greeted with - great
success and positive user acclaim upon receiving their phones?
Actually, no. Quite the opposite. Two major problems rapidly
The first issue is that the phone itself appears to have a problem, such
that it does not reliably lock on to T-Mobile's 3G fast data network,
but often drops the signal and falls back to the massively slower EDGE
network instead. This appears to be a problem specific to the
Google Nexus phone, because there are plenty of reports of people with a
Nexus phone and other 3G phones, with the phones next to each other, and
the other 3G phones getting a good signal and keeping it, while the
Google phone won't pick up the 3G signal or, if it does, keeps dropping
This is surprising and disappointing. Although the phone is
Google's first ever phone, it was made for them by the very experienced
high-end phone manufacturer, Taiwan based HTC, and HTC already makes
other phones that use T-mobile's 3G network. So one would have expected (and
particularly at a $530 price point) to be reasonably sure of getting a
reasonably reliable phone, right out of the box. Apparently not.
The second problem illustrates some of the hubris that Google may now be
experiencing. Google decided that when you buy a $530 phone, you
won't get any type of realtime phone support for it.
Instead, if you have a problem with your phone, you must post a message in a
user forum and wait/hope for someone to reply with a solution, or, if
you don't want to do that, apparently you can send an email to Google
Well, that's about as stupid and unsatisfactory an approach to offering
support as is imaginable. And it gets worse. Not only are
user forums a very unreliable way of getting support, but it is
reportedly taking up to three days for Google to answer support emails.
And, I don't know about you, but when I have a problem with my phone, it
typically requires some interacting with a support person to solve - you
explain the problem, they suggest a solution, maybe it doesn't work, or
you need further help doing what they suggest, maybe then a derivative
issue/question arises, and so on. In other words, if you're
relying on email support, there could be an exchange of five or ten
emails prior to resolving the problem, and if each email from Google
takes 3 days, you could be without your phone for a week or two, maybe
even a month or more!
Hello, Google! Anyone home? People need their phones, and
particularly need their high end smart phones. They won't accept
the inconvenience of email/forum type support, especially when buying an
expensive $530 phone. And - guess what : The more
sophisticated the phone, the greater the probability that a user will
need some support to fully understand everything it does.
There's a possible third issue now
starting to emerge too, with an occasional problem with the phone's
Some people have tried to call T-mobile for support, particularly on the
problem with the phone not reliably connecting to T-mobile's 3G network.
But T-mobile have told such callers that the problem is a hardware
problem, and directed them to call HTC, the phone's manufacturer.
HTC in turn have told callers that the problem is a network issue, not a
hardware issue, and directed people to call T-mobile. Currently,
no-one is taking responsibility for the problem or its solution.
It is interesting to contrast Google's approach to support with that of
Apple. With Apple, if you have a phone issue you can either call
them, on the phone, directly, or call AT&T and if AT&T can't resolve the
issue, they transfer you to an Apple representative who can.
The moral of the story seems to be that if you're buying a phone, you
should always buy it from your wireless company, because then they can't
refuse to accept responsibility for any support issues that arise.
The only exception to this being, of course, the exceptional in all
positive respects iPhone, which you can safely buy either from Apple or
AT&T and be assured of great support.
How is it that Google so seriously misstepped on this?
My sense is
that Google is currently imbued with a hubris, a sense of
unchallengeable destiny and inevitable success about itself in whatever
market it chooses to get into. While their underlying search
engine and advertising business model is sound, some of the areas they
are extending into these days have very weak links to their core
business and all are not proving to be robustly profitable or successful
It would be unfair and unkind to say Google has more
money than sense at present, but it sure is acting like it at times.
One of the measures that Google came in for
a huge amount of criticism was their moving into the Chinese market.
In doing so, Google voluntarily agreed to honor the Chinese
government's rules on internet censorship - for example, a search
for the phrase Tibet would bring up no hint of the controversial state
of China's involvement in Tibet, and similarly, a search for the phrase
Tiananmen Square would not make any mention of the massacre there in
But now, all of a sudden, Google has
reversed itself, and has removed the filters and restrictions.
This is tantamount to closing down in China, and Google had been running
down its operation there for some time, and now it seems likely that in
the next few days the Chinese government will close Google down
Google says it is doing this in retaliation
for Chinese hackers who apparently tricked some Gmail account holders
into revealing their passwords, and is also attempting to stake out the
moral high ground for its actions. And, to reassure their
investors, they added that removing China from their business mix would
have a negligible (less than 1%) impact on their bottom line.
But while Google's China
actions may seem high-minded and praiseworthy, I see it as another
symptom of their hubris - they're now taking on the Chinese government,
and saying that dropping China from their business plan would have negligible impact?
Google needs to focus on its prime competence, and rather than buying all sorts of crazy new businesses for billions
of dollars, businesses which sometimes never make money and are
subsequently shuttered, they really need to focus in on China.
Why the importance of China?
Simple. There are 400 million internet users in China, 200 million
of which have broadband, compared to only 80 million broadband users in the
US. The Chinese market is two and a half times larger than the US
market. And Google says that China is not important to them?
It is true that Google's China operations are not proving significantly
profitable, but that is because the Chinese web search engine Baidu
holds a 60% market share - about twice the share Google has.
Interestingly there's another major market
where Google is again a minor player - Russia, where Google's 23% market
share pales alongside Yandex's greater than 60% share. Might we
see Google withdraw from Russia too?
Google has some serious priority and perception problems.
While the issue of censorship in China was
something Google openly admitted, there's a really curious other form
of censorship that you can see on Google without needing to go to China.
Go to their home page
www.google.com and type in the two
words "Christianity is" (without the quotes). Notice how Google
kindly provides a list of possible phrases for you to choose from, and
notice how most of those phrases are insultingly negative to
Christianity and Christians.
Now backspace out what you just typed, and
instead type in "Islam is". What do you see? Absolutely
nothing at all - no suggestions. Google mutely sit there and
suggests nothing. If you wish, you could also type in "Judaism is"
and even "Buddhism is".
So why does Google offer a range of
insulting phrases for people researching Christianity and to a
similar but lesser degree, for other religions too, but no phrases for
people researching 'the religion of peace' (as its followers like to
think of Islam)? Why the special treatment for Islam?
Google said that the matter relates to a
'programming bug'. Hmmmm....... The programming bug remains
unresolved as of Thursday night, about a week after it first made the
Oh, and talking about China, it announced
plans this week to build the world's highest airport, the Nagqu Dagring
Airport, in Tibet. It will be at an altitude of 14,553 ft - a
height at which pilots are required to use oxygen and people (who are
not acclimatized to that height) have difficulty with even simple
physical activity. It is expected to open in 2014.
This will be interesting. I am
guesstimating that planes will need to reach almost twice the normal
takeoff speed, and will need to in turn land nearly twice as fast too,
due to the lower pressure at that altitude (17" of mercury compared to
30" at sea level); although the lower pressure may be partially
compensated for if the temperatures are colder (air gets denser when
This is just one of 97 new airports that
China intends to build in the next ten years - that is very nearly one
new airport a month. And the reason for this airport is part of
what is apparently China's plan to assimilate Tibet by virtue of
encouraging the Han Chinese to move into Tibet, and also to try and
disperse the Tibetans into the rest of China.
Some observers believe China is conducting a
similar unofficial assimilation in the northeast along its border with
Russia. When you have 1.3 billion people, there can be a certain
inevitability about things, including China's latest two economic
milestones - becoming the biggest market for automobiles in the
world (formerly this was the US) and also the world's largest exporter
(you might be surprised to learn that this was not formerly the US -
Germany held this distinction).
In 2010 China is expected to become the
world's second largest economy (displacing Japan) and with GDP
growth continuing at a greater than 10% annual rate, it is only a matter
of time before it displaces the US to become the world's largest
And this is a market that Google
dismisses as immaterial? Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted
that, for whatever reason, Google is now refusing to censor its searches
in China, but to describe China as immaterial? I think not.
Are cellphones good for one's health?
As longer time readers know, I believe cell phone radiation and its
effects is this century's equivalent of last century's cigarette smoking
and lung cancer controversy, with the same inevitability of an eventual
widely accepted confirmation that cell phones are indeed dangerous.
But until that realization is finally
accepted, here's an
interesting article that, while agreeing with the premise that cell
phone radiation does effect us, points out that not all these affects
are bad. Maybe some are good?
And, for those of us already seriously
addicted to our phones, here's
another new feature that may soon become the latest 'must have'
feature and reason for us to upgrade yet again. The feature is a
built in video projector, albeit at present low resolution and very dim.
This Week's Security Horror Story : As we all know, security
screeners are a bit more jumpy and sensitive at present, after the
crotch bombing attempt on 25 December. But, jumpy or not, they are
still far from providing a 100% effective screening service (is anyone
surprised by this?).
So it is perhaps unsurprising to read
this story of an airline passenger who realized, after going through
security and boarding his flight, that he had forgotten to remove some
ammunition from his carry-on bag. For some strange reason, he then
felt compelled to volunteer this information to a flight attendant, who
told the captain, who returned the plane back to the gate so the man
could surrender the ammunition to airport police and be rescreened (why
rescreen him - if ever there was someone clearly not a terrorist, surely
it would be him).
Oh - we're not talking about a couple of small pistol bullets here.
We're talking about full sized shotgun shells.
One of the more outrageous lies being
offered by people trying to justify their bad decisions and slackness in
not putting the crotch bomber on a higher priority 'do not fly' security
list was that such lists are treated very seriously and there's a very
formal process to go through before someone's name can be added to it.
another assertion of the processes and parameters that must be
observed before someone gets on that very special list.
The TSA itself says on its website that
there is an untrue urban legend about an 8 yr old being on the do not
fly list. But, as
this article points out, 8 yr old Mikey Hicks would sure like to be
able to fly like other normal eight year olds.
What is the sense in now giving our date of
birth when we book a ticket if 8 yr olds are still going to be treated
as terror suspects?
There are apparently three different lists
maintained by the various security services. There's a 'do not
fly' list of about 3400 names, a 'give a really hard time to before
letting them fly' list (not sure of the size - officially referred to as
the 'Selectee' list), and a 'put people's names on this list so you can
say you've done something but we'll ignore the list and the names on it'
list which variously is described as having 400,000 and 1.1 million
names on it. It is officially known as the Terrorist Screening
The crotch bomber was on that third, most
ineffectual, list. Apparently he is far from the only known or
suspected terrorist to be given lenient treatment.
This article quotes
a report from the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department
that says 'Not all known or reasonably suspected terrorists are
prohibited from boarding an aircraft, or are subject to additional
security screening prior to boarding an aircraft'.
So why is 8 yr old Mikey Hicks being given
such a hard time?
the story of a tuberculosis patient who somehow managed to fly
nonstop from PHL to SFO - a six and a half hour flight - despite being
on a do not fly list given to the TSA. The CDC says other
passengers can relax, because the flight was less than eight hours in
Yeah, sure, right. I find that
extremely reassuring. Not.
Meantime, the TSA is saying that it is not
its responsibility to enforce the no board list, but rather it is up to
the airlines. The airlines, in turn, say it is the TSA's
Be careful what you say on your next flight.
We already know not to joke about guns and bombs, etc. But
apparently we now must be careful not to ask 'unusual questions'
(whatever that might mean). Here's
a story that one wishes had a great deal more detail about how nine
men were taken off a Canadian flight to Cuba last week because they
asked unusual questions of a flight attendant. The flight returned
to the gate, the men were taken off the flight and interviewed by
police, and then released free with no charges pressed against them.
But they were not then returned to their
flight. They had their airfares refunded instead, which is a very
poor second best. What if they had non-refundable hotel
arrangements in Cuba? Or business meetings to attend? And
now that they have to make alternate arrangements with zero advance
booking, you can be sure that any other flights they can book/buy will
be less convenient and much more expensive.
The controversy over the new whole body
imaging scanners rages on unabated for another week, with more and
more sources reporting on their limited effectiveness. Far from
being the 'silver bullet' solution to people hiding things about their
person, it seems they are much less than infallible and can be fooled
And it also seems that the TSA has been
somewhat economical about the truth when claiming that the new
scanners would not be able to record and store images. Fancy that.
interesting article about the lack of radiation danger posed by such
new scanners that you might find reassuring, and here's the TSA's own
take on the topic.
excellent commentary on the impacts of the latest round of security
The terrorists are winning, without
needing to actually destroy any planes.
Or, to put it another way, the TSA's
unfocused and ineffectual response is punishing the innocent while
offering no effective protection against further determined attacks by
Lastly, some people buy a motorhome and travel around the country when
they retire. With the connectivity offered by cell phones and
internet, it is increasingly practical to live for a while with no
permanent address and still remain in contact with everyone and
There's also a semi-joke about some people who retire and live,
year-round, on a cruise ship. Astonishingly it can sometimes be
less expensive to live on a cruise ship than in a senior's home.
And now there's a third concept being tried, which combines elements of
both concepts. Utopia Residences is building a cruise liner that
will sell half its cabins as floating homes for their individual owners;
with the other half being sold to normal cruise passengers somewhat like
The permanent residences will cost
from $3.7 million to $26 million. $3.7 million will buy a 1,400
sq. ft. home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and the $26 million
will get you 6,600 sq. ft. with four bedrooms and three baths. You
would buy a cabin but not an ownership in the ship itself as they are
not condos and residents would not own common areas.
In addition there would be fees for
utilities, security, concierge services and access to private onboard
clubs. There will be three swimming pools, tennis courts, outdoor
movie theatre, miniature golf course, shops, restaurants and a "lazy
river" meandering around the deck. The ship will dock and take in
such events as the Cannes Film Festival, Rio during Carnival time and
Sydney Harbor during New Year's
Eve for the fireworks display. Those on board will be able to attend
sporting and cultural events worldwide.
The concept is actually not new, although
the prices seem to set a new high benchmark. Residensea has been
offering a similar program since the late 1990s, with a ship that took
to the water on its first cruise in 2002, but as I recall, their rates
were (are) much lower.
Alas, you're not likely to find me owning a
cabin on either boat.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels